1. When Tough Love Isn’t Tough at All…

    September 10, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Do you have a dog who is fearful around strangers, children, or other dogs? If you believe in the tough love approach, you may introduce your dog repeatedly to strange people or to children — even if your dog continues to back away, try to avoid them, or display fearful body language. Perhaps you keep going back to the dog park, determined to socialize your dog no matter what. No wimpy dogs allowed!

    Forcing a dog to confront her fears over and over again is called flooding. “Flooding exposes a dog to a trigger in a way that immerses her, as she is simultaneously prevented from escaping.” Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde. Flooding can sometimes cause sensitization, an increase in fear. Do you remember the snake scene from Indiana Jones’ Raiders of the Lost Ark? The character of Indiana Jones is famously afraid of snakes, but becoming trapped in a pit of snakes doesn’t do much to improve his opinion of them! It’s a great example of flooding…

    There is, thankfully, a better way. There is a way to help our dogs overcome their fears without worsening those fears, increasing anxiety, or even destroying their trust in us. That way is called counterconditioning and desensitization. To quote Help for Your Fearful Dog

    “Desensitization exposes a dog to a fear trigger in a gradual, incremental manner. The process begins at a level low enough to avoid a fearful response, and builds incrementally to the level that originally frightened the dog… Counterconditioning seeks to change an unpleasant emotional response to a trigger into a pleasant one. Once the dog’s underlying emotional response changes, her reaction toward the trigger will change as well. Counterconditioning is accomplished by pairing a trigger with something the dog perceives as wonderful.”

    To create your own program for desensitization and counterconditioning, follow these steps:

    Determine specifically what frightens your dog. Is it men with hats, teenagers on skateboards, children under the age of six, large dogs over 60# but not small dogs? It’s important to be as specific as possible.

    Make a list of reinforcers that really motivate your dog. It might be food, but it could also be a tennis ball or squeaky toy — or perhaps play or interaction with you. If food is high on your dog’s list, go with highly palatable food such as chicken, cheese, hotdogs, freeze-dried liver, or ham in tiny pea-sized pieces.

    Find your dog’s threshold. The threshold is the distance at which your dog is aware of the trigger (stranger, child, dog, etc) but is not concerned or showing signs of fear.

    Locate great training spots. Sometimes it’s best to start outside of your neighborhood. At home, your dog may be bracing for the neighbor’s dog to race out to the edge of his invisible fence, or scan constantly for cyclists or joggers. A new location can be a beautiful blank slate! Make sure that your training sites give you lots of space — helpful if you need to increase distance to keep your dog under threshold.

    Get started by paying close attention to your dog. As soon as your dog sees the trigger, feed treats quickly, one after another. It doesn’t hurt to speak in a happy tone of voice simultaneously as well! And when the trigger disappears, you guessed it, the treats and happy talk stop too. For more information about this process, check out The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell.


    At the end of the day, we all want our dogs to be comfortable and to feel safe. We want them to enjoy being dogs and to enjoy being out in the world. Carefully choosing our training methods can help us to build confidence rather than breaking it down. Thank you so much for reading and have a great weekend!

  2. Get Your Gear for Great Walks

    May 15, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Dog walks are not always as peaceful as the sweet image above! Training collars and harnesses are just that — training equipment not forever equipment — but they can give us a break from intense pulling and lunging. Training equipment can also give us some behavioral traction with dogs who are intensely excited about meeting other dogs and people — as well as confidence when handling dogs who behave in a frustrated or aggressive manner.

    The Sensations Harness is my tool of choice. You can view the Sensations Harness and look at the company’s fit and size guide here. Why do I like it? Easy to fit, easy to use, and little to no acclimation time for the dog. There are lots of similar, front-attached harnesses out there but this one has my vote! One caveat… if you’re running with your dog, allowing him to romp off-leash, or exercising him energetically in any other way — leave his front clip harness off during that time.

    The Thunderleash is a newer player on the scene and — you guessed it — was developed by the company who produce the Thundershirt. The Thunderleash uses pressure on the dog’s chest to discourage pulling. It has a very simple design and is also easy to use — converting quickly back and forth between a regular leash and a no-pull leash.

    Body Harnesses can be terrific for dogs who are escape artists and easily back out of their collars, but they aren’t the best for dogs who pull on leash. Think about the Iditarod… dogs wear body harnesses with leads attached to their backs. This gives them the greatest capacity to pull the sled forward! One thing we don’t want to do is give our dogs more capacity to pull us… So if your dog pulls on leash, go with the Sensations Harness or perhaps the Freedom Harness for back and chest points of attachment.

    Another important benefit of harnesses… the physical well-being of our dogs. When we discuss pulling and lunging, we generally focus on our frustration but not necessarily on the potential for injury. This article sums it up well: neck injuries (bruising, headaches, whiplash, and injuries to trachea and larynx), eye issues (pressure from pulling can worsen corneal issues, glaucoma, and other eye injuries), and thyroid gland (inflammation). Pain from collars or inappropriate equipment also how the potential to increase behavioral issues.

    Head Collars or Halters include Gentle Leaders, Comfort Trainers, Halti Head Halters, and Snoot Loops. Not all dogs are candidates for head halters, but they can sometimes be valuable when working through behavioral issues such as aggression and reactivity — and for dogs who like to launch love attacks at other pedestrians and pups! There is some potential of injury to the neck if a dog hits the end of a leash hard, or if he is given harsh corrections. Here’s one trainer’s view on using them “Are Dog Head Collars Humane? I Changed My Mind.”

    Martingale Collars are not great tools for preventing pulling, but like regular body harnesses, can prevent flight risk dogs from slipping their collars and completing a few victory laps! Dogs can slip their collars not only because they really do want to run free, but also because they startle easily and try to get away. If you have a dog who is environmentally sensitive (scared by cars, bikers, joggers) or is nervous getting out of the car at new places — a martingale collar could be a good choice. Also called greyhound or limited-slip collars, martingale collars are great for dogs with narrow heads (like greyhounds!).

    Flat Collars simply provide a place to attach id tags and a leash. Need to acclimate your puppy to a collar and leash? Start with a basic flat collar or simple harness and when he’s completely comfortable wearing it, also teach your puppy that collar grabs are a great thing! Last, flat collars are the perfect piece of equipment for a dog who understands loose leash walking and/or formal heeling — no restraint or extra control required!

    What is your preferred equipment when out for a walk with your dog? Let me know what makes your walks more peaceful!

    Written by Susan Marett

  3. Teach Your Dog to Relax!

    February 25, 2017 by Susan Marett

    We are really really good at training our dogs to perform specific skills, but what about training the ultimate non-performance skill? Simply hanging out in a content and relaxed way? How are we at training that? Let’s call this the skill of doing nothing.

    Below I’ve detailed one skill and one concept that can get your dog to that zen state of mind… Just being and being with you! Let’s get started:

    Go to Your Mat

    Go to Your Mat is a great skill for teaching a dog to relax in a specific place. Here’s a quick overview:

    Step 1. Working within one or two feet of the mat, and your dog at your side, say “Go to your mat” in a cheerful tone of voice, pause, then toss the treat to the mat.

    Step 2. As soon as your dog has two or more paws on the mat, treat again on the mat.

    Step 3. Tell your dog, “Down.” Give the hand signal or lure it if your dog needs help. When he lies down, treat him. Continue to treat to keep your dog on the mat. After a few seconds, tell your dog, “Okay,” and allow him to get up.

    Step 4. Release your dog, and set up to practice again, repeating until your dog begins to go to mat when you say, “Go to your mat,” before tossing the treat.

    Now that you and your dog have mastered the basics, begin looking for the following signs of relaxation. All of these signs can be marked with a clicker or verbal secondary reinforcer and rewarded. These are from Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s terrific book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over the Top to Under Control.

    Head lowering to mat, chin resting on leg or mat

    Tail uncurling or resting on floor

    Hip rocking to one side

    Hind legs slipping further from body

    Hind legs extending behind body (“frog legs”)


    Blinking and soft eyes

    Ears Relaxing

    Rolling onto one side

    Here are two videos from Sarah Owings on teaching “Go to Your Mat.

    There are so many uses for “Go to Your Mat.” Need your dog to be calm when visitors arrive, chill at the vet’s office, relaxed at the local pub? Go to Your Mat can help in all of those scenarios and more!

    Next up… Capture Calmness

    Is it tough for your dog to relax? Do you feel that your dog has two speeds? One is “floor it” to maximum speed and one is asleep? Try “capturing calmness.” Coined by Emily Larlham, capturing calmness refers to “catching” your dog being calm, and reinforcing it to create a default settle. Videos below:

    And finally, don’t forget that dogs do need plenty of exercise (both physical and mental), obedience training, and management to be a civilized family member rather than a wild child. If you’re fulfilling these needs, and add the exercises above, you’ll have a dog that can do a lot with you, and do nothing with you too!

    By Susan Marett

  4. On the Loss of Our Dogs – How to Help Ourselves and Each Other When We Lose a Dog

    February 11, 2017 by Susan Marett

    “Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog, it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs your heart is very big.”  – Erica Jong

    Consider this post a love letter to everyone out there who has grieved over the loss of a dog or pet. Our dogs are often with us through many major life changes and transitions, bearing witness to all the happy and unhappy seasons of our lives. My dogs have been with me through divorce, remarriage, and the adoption of two children — lots of adjustments for all of us — and have been steady and constant throughout. But with so much shared experience, it can be a huge and even overwhelming loss when such beloved companions pass away. Today we’re going to discuss how to take care of ourselves when we’re going through such a devastatingly tough time.

    One thing for certain.. there is one upside of losing a dog. Loss creates empathy, and we gain the ability to be even more compassionate. Losing a dog is heart-wrenching, but it is incredibly comforting to have the support of other people who know what’s it’s like to lose a four-legged friend. I’ve listed ways below to support friends and family through loss as well.

    Taking care of yourself…

    First, give yourself time. Give yourself time to grieve and be sad without feeling the pressure to just get over it. As Michael Zadoorian wrote about losing his cat, “We feel what we feel. Grief is involuntary. Grief has no proportion to weight or size, genus or gender.”

    In her posts Love, Guilt, and Putting a Dog Down and Helping a Dog Through a Loss (more on that later), Patricia McConnell writes that she had learned “that ‘social distress,’ or what we’d call grieving, is registered in a primitive part of the brain that is also associated with the perception of pain.” She goes on to kindly add “And so, remember that when you lose a dog, or if you are still grieving for one you lost in the past, your body thinks you’ve been injured. It needs you to take care of yourself. It needs rest and comfort and flowers and sweet soup and gentle kisses and hugs.”

    “I feel about my dogs now, and all the dogs I had prior to this, the way I feel about children—they are that important to me. When I have lost a dog I have gone into a mourning period that lasted for months.” – Mary Tyler Moore

    Second, give yourself space, the emotional space to express your feelings. Not everyone out there is a dog lover, but if you have like-minded friends or family members, confide to them how you feel. If not, find an online support group or call a pet loss hotline. Both Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine have support hotlines for pet owners. Remember that it’s not uncommon to feel a range of emotions including guilt, denial, anger, and depression. For example, if your dog suffered from a terminal illness while still relatively young, you may feel that you should have handled the illness in another way. We all do the best we can do with the information we have in the moment. Above all else, remember that you will come out on the other side.

    Last, if you find it comforting, create a plan to memorialize your dog. You may want to donate to a cause, rescue group, or animal shelter in his or her name. You may want to create a special burial marker, or if you’ve had your dog cremated, scatter the remains or keep the urn in an honored spot with your dog’s picture.

    Caring for Others…

    As mentioned above, memorializing a lost dog or pet can provide some measure of comfort. It validates that the dog was truly important in that person’s life, not just a pet. Donating to a cause in your friend or family member’s name (or in their pet’s name), can be a way to show how much you care about them and their feelings.

    Memorials can also take the form of pictures and even paintings. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive both. My close friend and fellow trainer Heather Moore arranged to have professional pictures taken of my Rottie Frances when she was ill with bone cancer. Years later, I still have that reminder of Frances, and of Heather’s kindness, on my wall. Another generous friend Michelle asked me to email a picture and had a small oil painting created of my Dalmatian Puck. Both of these images will always mean the world to me.

    If you have a child or children dealing with a dog or pet’s loss, review these age-related suggestions from the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB). You may want to create a ceremony for celebrating their dog’s life and remembering sweet and funny things that their dog did (see The Tenth Good Thing About Barney), help them create drawings or paintings about their dog, put together a scrapbook, or even plant a tree in memory of their dog. Great books can also help a child to process their dog’s death. Do keep in mind that the loss of a pet is often the first death that a child experiences.

    Finally, if you have other dogs or pets, be ready for their mourning period too. Some dogs grieve very little while others grieve intensely. Your remaining dog may lose his appetite, lack energy or sleep longer than usual, be anxious when left alone resulting in destructive behavior, accidents, or barking/howling, and seem depressed. If symptoms last longer than a few days or a couple of weeks, get in touch with your veterinarian.

    I’ll leave you with this…

    “There’s a stone I had made for Luke at the top of the hill road, where the pasture opens wide and the setting sun highlights the words carved into its face. ‘That’ll do, Luke, that’ll do.’ The words are said to working dogs all over the world when the chores are done and the flock is settled: ‘That’ll do dog, come home now, your work is done.’ Luke’s work is done too. He took my heart and ran with it, and he’s running still, fast and strong, a piece of my heart bound up with his, forever.” – Patricia McConnell For the Love of a Dog

    By Susan Marett

  5. The Long List of Ways to Use a Long Line

    January 20, 2017 by Susan Marett

    In this week’s 5 Paw Friday, we’re chatting about the many uses and benefits of using a long training lead or long line especially for working on the cue “come.” I often use my long line with dogs a few times a day, and frequently hear “Wow! That’s a really long leash!” from passerbys.

    So why on earth would you want to use a long line for dog training. Lemme explain a little…

    Long lines allow for…

    • Training sessions with your dog that can mimic your dog working off-leash.
    • Safety in open spaces without fencing
    • Adherence to leash laws *although* some areas (including our local beaches) will limit the number of feet that a leash or line can be.
    • Assessment of recalls with distractions
    • Ability to increase the difficulty of distractions while still setting up your dog for success
    • Practice of other skills such as sit and down stay, leave it, and wait at a distance
    • Greater exercise and exploration… Exploration is great for building a shy and fearful’s dog’s confidence and encourages more independence and curiosity.

    The Downsides of Long Lines are…

    • The handler must be relatively strong and balanced/steady to handle a dog on a long line.
    • Dogs must have a good foundation for “come” before being worked on a long line.
    • Use of a long line requires attention! It’s easy to get wrapped up in a long line and pulled down.
    • If you grab a long line while your dog is moving fast, you risk rope burns on your hands. Some handlers use gloves for protection!

    Here are a few tips on using a long line…

    • Don’t jerk a dog for not coming to you; instead, gently prompt your dog to come with just a small amount of movement with the line i.e. “Hey! Remember me? I’m right back here.” When working around distractions, or when your dog is deeply involved in sniffing an area and the brain has moved completely down to his nose, a light reminder is often all that’s needed to get his attention. It should have a ‘polite’ quality just like when your friend taps you on the shoulder.
    • Dogs can take off very quickly, and before you blink, have traveled 30 + feet away. Don’t jerk a dog when he’s running at high speed, or attempt to stop him abruptly if at all possible. Even when you are paying close attention to your dog, it’s certainly possible that he’ll see something and sprint off quickly. For this reason, it’s a great idea to use a body harness with the ring over the back, not centered on your dog’s chest. It’s also extremely important to avoid using Gentle Leaders or any other brand of head halters.
    • Stick to the basics: Say your dog’s name and then pause to make sure that you have his attention. All systems go? Call him once not twice. It’s action time now! Either your action or the dog’s action. If he doesn’t immediately begin to turn towards you and begin moving in, you’ll need to get to him quickly so that you can engage his attention. Be nice, be fun, but make “come” mandatory not optional.
    • Keep “come” fun while training: don’t call the dog away from fun, or to you for punishment or reprimand.
    • Ever feel like a fast food drive-thru? Recall training isn’t about ordering fries with a Big Mac, it’s about getting to you and staying with you. Be ready to focus your dog when he reaches you, and don’t allow drive bys’. Reward for at least three seconds while your dog is attentive and right in front of you. It’s not necessarily about coming in and sitting, but it IS about coming and making a stop!

    Thanks for reading! For more tips, view Grisha Stewart’s video below.

    By Susan Marett